Japan’s Case of the Mysteriously Vanishing Elderly continues, and now it seems there are an amazing 234,354 centenarians listed as “missing,” including nearly a thousand who, according to the official numbers, are more than 150 years old. While this all started when a family declined to report the death of their grandfather in order to fraudulently receive his pension benefits, the real problem comes from limitations of the family registry system. Japan tracks its citizens in a national registry called the koseki, which dates back to the Meiji Period and is based on ancient Chinese systems. Any birth, marriage, divorce, name change or death is supposed to be recorded in the registry when they happen, but it obviously doesn’t always go as planned, judging by the “missing” elderly Japanese citizens. It’s a very conservative system, and one reason Japanese women are still not allowed to keep their maiden names when they get married is, it would mess up the neat symmetry of this venerable registry system. Since foreigners are not Japanese citizens, we’re excluded from being listed on the koseki, and when my children were born the city would occasionally send out social workers to check up on how my “single mother” wife was getting along, which we got a big laugh out of.
Don’t worry, Japan’s elderly aren’t really going missing.